What are the fleet and crew capabilities in No.3 Squadron?
No.3 Squadron operates eight NH90 medium utility helicopters and five A109 light utility helicopters. We primarily employ the NH90 in operational roles, with the A109 principally used for generating and qualifying new helicopter crews.
The NH90 has several government-mandated outputs including Army battlefield support, Special Forces operations, amphibious operations, SAR and support to other government agencies. Crews are therefore qualified in several disciplines: battlefield support operations with aerial gunnery, counter-terrorism assault operations including fast-rope delivery, and amphibious ship operations. Core crew competencies include winching, underslung load operations and mountain flying.
The NH90 has several government-mandated outputs including Army battlefield support, Special Forces operations, amphibious operations, SAR and support to other government agencies
A key NH90 output is National Contingency (NATCON), where an aircraft and crew are on short period notice to move, ready to react to any sort of domestic crisis or emergency event. This typically takes the form of a search and rescue, or domestic natural disaster response. The standard NATCON crew includes a SAR medic, but they may be supplemented with an AME doctor or nurse.
During the Pacific cyclone season (from October to April), there are also designated NH90 crews on standby for any international Humanitarian and Disaster Relief event. Deployment is via fixed wing air transport or embarkation on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship.
What is your typical area of operation, and how far outside the scope of this do you go when necessary?
Given our scale and wide range of outputs, we operate with an agile ethos. Crews are expected to operate in a dynamic and changing environment, with training flights often encompassing multiple disciplines and flight regimes. Crews are therefore given a high level of trust and flexibility to execute operational missions, with a strong safety culture that underpins airborne decision making.
What percentage of your operations are SAR/MEDEVAC/other?
Specific SAR and MEDEVAC missions would form less than five per cent of our total operations. However, a large portion of our training focuses on the underlying core skills that are directly applicable to SAR operations: winching, confined areas, mountain flying and night vision goggle (NVG) flying.
How have the NZDF’s medevac capabilities changed in the past 10 years in terms of the equipment you carry onboard to treat patients?
Since 2016, we have developed a Rotary Wing Aeromedical Evacuation (RWAE) capability that can transport four casualties (two litter, two sitting), cared for by a three-person medical team (usually a doctor, flight nurse and flight medic). This includes delivery of high-dependency medical care using a modern suite of medical electronic devices, including the Zoll MD monitor defibrillator, Hamilton T1 transport ventilator, and Braun infusion pumps. All of the equipment can be secured on a Special Medical Emergency Evacuation Device (SMEED) NATO Litter bridge system. This system can transport patients on life support, between medical facilities (tactical MEDEVAC) or can be re-configured to respond to point of injury in a forward MEDEVAC capability. The system is compatible with both door guns fitted. While primarily set up to manage military casualties, it can (and has) been used for civilian emergencies, namely the White Island eruption.
Currently a trial is under way on new hoist equipment. This is the first major upgrade to the equipment in a number of years and is intended to enhance safety and efficiency.
Are you investing in any new medical equipment at the moment that is going to further enhance the care you offer to the patients you evacuate?
Ongoing investment is in our human capability; medical crew members are trained on a formal aeromedical evacuation course, as well as survival, Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), and winch person duties. Medical team members are also developing ongoing currency during clinical attachments to civilian rescue helicopter services.
You fly A109 and NH90 helicopters – are they both used for the same purposes, or do you have a chosen aircraft for performing certain missions?
As above, the A109 is used primarily in the training role. It offers a more efficient platform to train new Helicopter Load Masters (HLM) and pilots. It also enables newly qualified crews to consolidate their skills prior to converting onto the NH90.
Why was the NH90 chosen as the helicopter of choice for No.3 Squadron?
The NH90 offers a unique blend of capabilities which are required to execute the diverse range of No.3 Sqn outputs. Specifically: cabin capacity and ability for range of configurations, glass cockpit and pilot automation, twin-engine power output, speed and range characteristics, tactical self-protection capability and anti-icing system (particularly important for domestic terrain and conditions).
How did the NH90 perform when it was called on to perform SAR missions and transport staff from civil agencies into hard-to-reach areas during the floods of June 2021 in Canterbury?
The NH90 performed very well. The aircraft’s range, speed and weather protection meant the crew could deploy to Christchurch in a timely manner. The crew were then able to leverage the aircraft’s hoist system, pilot automation and power output to successfully extract multiple survivors from floodwaters in a NVG environment. The NH90’s range and capacity also enabled crews to transport a number of civil agency personnel to key locations around
There is a NZDF aviation tenet that says ’Mission first, safety always’. This is central to how the unit operates and forms the basis for crew decision-making.
What training technology does the NZDF make use of to ensure pilots and crewmembers are operating to the best of their ability?
The NZDF operates both an A109 and NH90 simulator, and Complete Aircrew Training System (CATS), which is co-located with No.3 SQN at Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea. The simulators are primarily used for pilot emergency and instrument training. They are also employed to conduct complex scenario-based missions for a whole crew, producing valuable CRM training outcomes. The CATS is used as a procedural trainer for HLMs, particularly those undertaking their initial qualification. This covers both normal utility procedures and emergency procedures.
This technology enables crews to experience situations and practise skills which would not be possible in the aircraft.
Safety is always paramount when helicopters are involved; what safety management systems have you got in place to ensure the safe operation of the Squadron’s fleet?
There is a NZDF aviation tenet that says ’Mission first, safety always’. This is central to how the unit operates and forms the basis for crew decision-making. Our safety framework is based on a three-tier risk management system, with a specific sortie risk assessment applied to each flight. We also have a transparent flight safety event (FSE) reporting system, which works under the concept of ’just culture’. Just culture promotes incident reporting by removing any associated blame or stigma; crews will actively and openly discuss safety events, with the intent to share knowledge, mistakes and lessons.